Some Texoma school districts looking to arm teachers in the classroom

Published: Aug. 9, 2022 at 6:45 PM CDT
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SHERMAN, Texas (KXII) - The new school year is just hours away for some students and days away for others.

Still, the thoughts of Uvalde and the tragic ending to the last school year carry weight for some districts as students head back to the classroom.

In response, Whitesboro ISD joined about 80 other districts, a fraction of the 1200 school districts across Texas, opting into a defender program.

The program falls under a Texas law created after 20 children and six educators were killed in a mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary.

Essentially, it allows school employees to carry a firearm.

“We thought it was prudent to make sure we can defend our kids on each campus,” said Whitesboro ISD Superintendent Ryan Harper.

Harper said anywhere from 15 to 30 faculty members and staff in the district, who volunteered, will conceal carry.

Their identity will remain anonymous to students, parents, and even other co-workers.

“It gives us a fighting chance so to speak,” said Harper.

Those deemed defenders must have a concealed carry license, pass a psychological examination, active shooter simulation training, interviews, and complete more ongoing pieces of training throughout the year.

“If someone is in a building harming our students or our staff, we’re going to be able to expand in like kind very quickly,” said Harper.

The district hopes the program will increase response time since it only has one police officer, who oversees all four buildings.

But the moment first responders arrive, the district said defenders must put their firearms down.

“Once that happens, guns on the ground,” said Harper. “I’m on my stomach and I’m a defender for Whitesboro ISD. They’re fully aware that if the police officer is on the scene and they are the first person they see with a gun, they may be getting shot.”

In Uvalde, 21 people died even with law enforcement present.

“You have no way of knowing if what you’re doing is going to work until it happens,” said Harper. “The alternative is too great a cost if you don’t have any way to protect yourself.”

In an online KXII poll, 75 percent of responders said they would support arming faculty and staff in their child’s school.

Whitesboro isn’t the only district with a defender program.

SNS said they’ve had one since 2014, and the number of employees volunteering to conceal carry is growing.

Van Alstyne also announced it is working with the local police department and DPS to protect campuses.

Denison ISD sent KXII a link detailing safety policies.

Brad Ruthart, the Director of Safety and Security for Paris ISD, provided the following statement:

“In wake of the recent school shooting tragedy, I would like to share with the public what Paris ISD does to keep kids safe.

Nine years ago, a school-based police department was established within PISD to ensure the safety and security of students and staff. The Paris ISD police department currently has ten TECOLE certified armed police officers. All the police officers have more than 20 years of law enforcement experience and all have thousands of mandated training hours.

There is one officer per campus with the exception of the high school, which has two officers. The assistant chief floats from campus to campus monitoring the parking lots and outside buildings. He also fills in for the regular police officer should that person be off campus which maintains full-time police coverage on every campus. A marked police car is assigned to each campus. Officers are trained in all facets of school-based policing, which includes mental health training, conflict resolution, threat assessment, and all other school-based police tactics. Each officer is highly qualified and dedicated to the well-being of the students and the district.

PISD has numerous layers of safety and security both outside and inside the schools. Paris ISD has a state-of-the-art video surveillance system, which covers 100 percent of each campus. The video surveillance is monitored by the campus police officer and staff. When the officer isn’t monitoring the video surveillance, he’s walking the campus interacting with students and staff. He is also checking interior and exterior doors to ensure they are locked. Paris ISD has utilized grant funding and donations to increase the physical security of all buildings, doors, windows, and classrooms.

Visitors enter each school through the front door. The visitor is “buzzed in” and allowed to come to the main office where they must present a valid identification card. The ID is scanned into a school check-in system, which examines the visitor’s potential criminal history.

A visitor must have a valid reason for being inside the school. Under most circumstances, only parents, guardians, or grandparents are allowed inside. All PISD schools are considered closed campuses.

PISD provides an app or website for students or anyone to report situations. The reporter may remain anonymous, if desired. We ask students, staff, parents, and all citizens to report anything they deem unusual on social media.

PISD faculty and staff are trained in the ALICE active shooter response method. This empowers teachers and staff to assess the situation and act accordingly. It gives teachers options and encourages them to run, hide, or fight based on the subjective circumstance.

We encourage all people to keep us informed regarding anything a person feels we should know. No matter how big or small of an incident, it is our job at PISD to keep our students and faculty safe.

Rest assured, your children’s well-being, safety, and security are top priorities at Paris ISD.”

For Durant students and families, the school district said it has a school safety task force, which works with OSBI and emergency management to provide training, review emergency plans, check access points, and more.

GoSanAngelo compiled a searchable list of Texas school districts with links to each policy.

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